Title: Sticks and Stones
Author: Jordanna Morgan
Archive Rights: Please request the author's consent.
Summary: A Gestapo officer's strange agenda involves Colonel Hogan.
Disclaimer: I don't own them. I'm just playing with them.
At exactly two minutes after nine, Carter popped out of the cooler tunnel, looking like a flighty ground squirrel. He almost jumped out of his skin when Hogan stirred from his motionless position on the bunk.
"You're late," Hogan remarked, just as Carter was breathing a sigh of relief.
"Sorry, sir. Hochstetter had Klink pull a surprise roll call." Carter produced a tool case and a flashlight from beneath his worn bomber jacket. "I think I got everything we need. Brought the flashlight because there's not enough light in here." He lifted his eyes to give Hogan a quick, apologetic glance. "I'll need you to hold it for me, sir."
"Don't worry about that. Just concentrate on the job." Hogan took the shabby blanket from the bunk and spread it across the cell's small table, to catch incriminating plaster shavings. Then he sat down and gingerly rested his encumbered left arm on the makeshift tablecloth. "There's not much in the way of work space. Will this do?"
"Fine, sir." Carter sat down across from him and began laying out his tools. "Look, if anything I do starts to hurt, you let me know. Okay?"
"I feel like I'm at the dentist."
Carter paused in mid-movement. "You know, I never thought going to the dentist was really all that bad. See, the dentist I had when I was a kid was—"
"Carter." Hogan leveled an impatient gaze on him, and the younger man nodded abruptly.
"Oh, yeah. Okay…" He clicked the flashlight on and handed it to Hogan. "Hold it like this, sir, so the light's pointed right here."
Gripping the flashlight in his right hand, Hogan watched intently as Carter proceeded to work, carefully cutting into the thickened section of the cast beneath which the explosive lurked. The task was agonizingly slow, because one wrong move might nick a hidden wire, setting off the bomb.
As minutes passed, powdery white plaster shavings accumulated on the blanket-turned-tablecloth, and Carter began to sweat. After a while, he paused to wipe his slickened palms against his shirt.
"Uhmm, Colonel… could we talk?"
One eyebrow arching, Hogan looked at him askance. "Now? About what?"
"Oh, anything, sir. I mean… well, it'll help me relax a little, until we find the package."
"If you say so…" Hogan rolled his eyes, trying to think of a topic they had never discussed in all their time together. It wasn't easy. In a stalag, there came to be very little the men didn't know about each other—a fact which was a blessing and a curse.
At last, a subject occurred to him that he had never really explored. "Tell me about why you got into the military."
Carter paused briefly in his work to give Hogan a shy glance, then resumed his chiseling. "My big brother, I guess. You know, I always had to do everything he did. So, when he joined up… I guess I had some big idea I could stick with him if I did too." Ruefulness crept into his voice. "Found out it doesn't really work that way."
Hogan's gaze softened. "Where is he now?"
"Somewhere in the Pacific, I think." Carter set aside one of his tools and selected a narrower one in its place. "They move him around so much, he can't even write often. Last letter was about four months ago."
Thinking of his own brothers, Hogan sympathetically tilted his head. "You must worry about him a lot."
"I sure do." Carter sighed softly, then gave his commander another glance. "What about you, sir? How'd you get into the Air Corps?" He frowned as if unsure of whether the question was appropriate, but Hogan nodded reassuringly.
"How did I get into the Air Corps…" Hogan thoughtfully let his gaze wander. "There were a lot of reasons. But I guess in the end, I owe it to my father."
"You mean he wanted you to be a flyer?"
"And see me sent off to war? No way. He wanted me to be a doctor." Hogan chuckled faintly. "But I didn't care much for the sight of blood, and besides, I never agreed with Dad if I could help it. So I went and did the one thing that would aggravate him the most." He shrugged with one shoulder, a trace of remorse creeping into his expression.
"In hindsight… it was a pretty lousy way to avoid seeing blood."
Without looking up, Carter pursed his lips solemnly. "Your dad must have been pretty sore."
"He accepted it, and he was proud of what I accomplished. But he never liked the choice I made… and a lot of things were left unsaid between us when he died."
Carter was respectfully silent. Hogan sighed, then carefully sat up a little straighter, shaking off the melancholy wrought by the remembrances.
After a moment, Carter shifted his weight, reaching for a different tool. "You know, I don't think my folks ever really thought I'd get shipped off to fight. Paul, sure… but not ol' Andrew the runt." He grinned self-deprecatingly. "I was never as good at anything as Paul."
"Now, that I don't believe," Hogan said, softly but firmly. "You have talents, Carter. The rest of us don't remember that often enough, but it's true."
"Yeah, I'm good at making messes. And I always have been." Carter chuckled weakly. "Just ask Newkirk."
The remark made Hogan smile. He wasn't sure he would ever understand the relationship between Carter and Newkirk, though in his heart, he suspected that the childlike young American and the moody British pickpocket were in their way the best of friends. He had certainly gotten used to seeing them together, the way Carter followed Newkirk around like a puppy, absurd notions and all.
The habit usually earned Carter rough teasing and sardonic reproach. For the most part, it was fond in nature; but at times, Hogan felt that Newkirk's temperamental jabs were just a little too harsh.
"I think Newkirk could use more patience," Hogan confided. "I've wondered sometimes why you never stand up to him. After all, you do outrank him!"
Carter looked up, his brow creasing in a frown. "Oh, no, I couldn't do that, sir."
"Well, for one thing, I'd never feel right bossing around somebody older than me. And besides that, well… Newkirk…" Carter shrugged. "He gets kind of restless, you know. And I sort of figure he'd go crazy sooner or later, if he didn't have somebody to blow off steam at. I don't mind."
The humble, matter-of-fact words were a revelation to Hogan, and he stared at Carter in amazement. "You mean you purposely let him rag on you the way he does?"
"I guess, sort of. Just a little." Carter glanced up with an awkward grin. "Most of the time it's just on accident I make him mad. But sometimes, if I see he's really about to blow, I'll try to say something dumb so he'll yell at me and get it out of his system… Why're you looking at me like that?" Blue eyes full of uncertainty returned Hogan's wondering gaze.
Hogan shook his head slowly. "I just hope that someday, Newkirk realizes what a friend he has."
It was difficult to tell in the dim light, but Hogan could have sworn he saw Carter blush.
The moment ended when Carter suddenly raised a hand. "Hey, wait a minute… I think I got something here." He picked up one of his finest tools and carefully scraped away more plaster from the cast, exposing the edge of something metal.
Down the corridor, keys rattled, and Hogan tore his gaze away from Carter's find. "The guard. Into the tunnel, quick!" he whispered.
Carter bolted for cover. Hogan bundled up the plaster-powdered blanket and kicked it under the bunk, then shifted his position, resting his head on his arms.
When the guard passed by, he saw nothing but a prisoner sitting at the table, asleep.
For the umpteenth time, Kinchloe glanced at his watch, only to discover that it was just one minute later than the last time he looked. Heaving a disgusted sigh, he stood up and moved toward the barracks stove, where he poured his third cup of coffee.
"More'n an hour now," Newkirk muttered, absently shuffling his dog-eared deck of cards. "Least there's been no explosion yet. That's a good sign."
LeBeau stirred on his bunk, where he had been lying listlessly for the past hour, and gave Newkirk an ungrateful glare. "Carter will do just fine, Newkirk."
Kinch shrugged. "Remember, he has to make himself scarce while that Gestapo bulldog takes his hourly walk through the cooler."
"What is Hochstetter going to do? That worries me more than the Colonel's bomb."
"He must know the Colonel got away from Gestapo headquarters with something. I wonder why he's waiting to make his move…"
"He's letting the Colonel stew in uncertainty, that's what it is." Newkirk restlessly rose from the table and started to pace. "Blimey, would I like to get my hands around that Gerry rat's throat…"
Sergeant Olsen, who had been standing at the door on sentry duty, abruptly turned toward Kinch. "I think we've got trouble. Hochstetter's on the move, and it looks like he's going to wake up Klink."
"At this time of night?" Kinch headed for Colonel Hogan's office. "We'd better patch in that bug we've got in Klink's quarters. I don't like this one bit."
In Colonel Hogan's small, private room, Kinch produced the coffee pot-turned-listening device that had eavesdropped on many top-secret conversations. Newkirk, LeBeau, and Olsen crowded around the desk as Kinch plugged into the Kommandant's quarters. After a moment, Klink's voice emerged from the speaker, sounding equally disgruntled and anxious.
"—can I do for you, Major? I assumed you wouldn't need anything until morning…"
The response was delivered by Hochstetter's guttural snarl. "This time of the night is always ideal for interrogations, Klink."
"Interrogation?" Klink's exclamation was echoed by LeBeau, and Kinch waved a hand to silence his companions as Hochstetter answered.
"Of course. A man just awakened often proves to be quite malleable."
Klink's discomfort intensified audibly. "Then… you want to see Colonel Hogan now."
"You have such a brilliant grasp of the situation," Hochstetter retorted. "Get dressed, Klink, now! I want Hogan released to me within five minutes."
"Yes Major. Right away, Major…" Klink's voice receded as he left the living room of his quarters, and an uneasy silence fell over Colonel Hogan's office.
"We've got to warn the Colonel!" LeBeau blurted out, starting for the door.
Newkirk caught him by the scarf and pulled him back. "Hold on there, mate. You know what the Guv'nor will do if Hochstetter finds out what he's got!"
"He'll set off that bomb and destroy the microfilm." Kinch yanked out the coffee pot's plug. "Orders or no orders, I'm not going to see Hochstetter get the Colonel hurt or killed. Newkirk, do you know how to work one of Carter's little goody packages?"
The Englander groaned. "Gor, after all his scatterbrained lectures, I think I can have a pretty good go at it. Exactly what have you got in mind?"
"When in doubt, dynamite."
Olsen shrugged. "Works for me…"
"Hopefully we can divert Hochstetter's attention to the one thing he cares about more than his job." Kinch headed for the door of Hogan's office. "Come on, we've gotta work fast."
"When do we ever work slow?" LeBeau retorted.
Hogan's arm had gone numb around the same time Carter, after much patient chiseling, had finished exposing the small metal casing embedded in the cast. Set just below the crook of Hogan's elbow, it was thin and just wide enough to contain microfilm.
It was difficult to believe that such a small package could hold such a dangerous booby trap, and for a moment, Hogan almost wondered if Frolich had been bluffing. However, thoughts of the exploding pens Carter sometimes rigged quickly vanquished his moment of optimism.
Carter had set aside his tool, and sat contemplating the malevolent little package. Hogan was unwilling to break the flighty sergeant's attention, but after two minutes of silent waiting, he shifted in his seat and flexed the fingertips he had long ago lost contact with. "What's the next step?"
Carter looked up as if he had forgotten Hogan's presence, and blinked nearsightedly as he raised an arm to wipe his brow with his sleeve. "I guess… I guess it's time to pull its teeth, sir." There was a nervous tremor in his voice.
"I know you can do it, Little Deer."
Hogan's voice was quiet and steady as he regarded the younger man, willing him to feel his commander's confidence. The use of the affectionate nickname served to drive home that unspoken message.
Carter looked up, opening his mouth as if to protest—but when his eyes met Hogan's, he quietly shrugged. "Thank you, sir."
He picked up a screwdriver, took a deep breath, and slowly unscrewed the casing. Inside it lay a folded layer of canvas, a protective covering for the microfilm… and on top of that rested a small and neatly packaged explosive charge, attached by three wires to a crude but functional detonator.
"We're not gonna get that microfilm without setting it off," Carter said grimly. His eyes sought Hogan's as his fingers hovered hesitantly over the wires, and the Colonel returned a gaze of well-disciplined calm.
"Go ahead, Carter," he said quietly.
Closing his eyes briefly, Carter nodded, and picked up a pair of wire cutters.
Still fumbling with the buttons of his jacket, Klink emerged from his bedroom with exactly three seconds to spare in Major Hochstetter's deadline. The Gestapo man stopped pacing to glare at him.
"Ready, Major," Klink stammered, edging toward the door. Hochstetter was just as dangerous outdoors as in, but there was at least some psychological comfort in getting him out into the open. Klink led him onto the porch and they started across the compound, passing the Major's staff car, which was parked in front of the guest quarters.
"I will question Hogan as thoroughly as this environment permits." Hochstetter folded his hands behind his back. "Should that fail to have results, I do not intend to toy with him any longer. This time, he will be taken to Berlin—and he will not return."
A shiver crept down Klink's spine. "Major, are you sure that's the best decision? Hogan is a prisoner! What can he possibly tell you that you have not already learned?"
Pausing in his step, Hochstetter gave the Colonel a measured gaze in the moonlight. "Bear something in mind, Klink. No matter what restraints you may impose upon him, a man of Hogan's intelligence has more freedom than you ever will."
"Yes, Major," Klink grumbled meekly. He was aware of the subtly implied insult—but to address it would have been to welcome trouble.
Hochstetter continued moving toward the cooler. "Now, Klink. When I am interrogating Hogan, I want—"
He got no further. Without warning, the night's quiet, moonlit darkness transformed itself, shattered by a deafening roar and the brilliant glow of blossoming flames.
As he dropped to the ground, curling into a protective ball, Klink caught a glimpse of two moving shadows in the shelter of the nearest building. He could even have sworn that one of them looked like Sergeant Kinchloe.
When the sound of an explosion reverberated across the camp, Carter almost dropped his screwdriver on a very dangerous exposed wire lead.
A brief double shock of panic swept through Hogan, but after two heartbeats, it began to sink in that he was still alive and would remain so—at least for the moment. He breathed deeply and glanced up at Carter, who was frozen in what had to be a very uncomfortable pose, looking at Hogan with an anxious and bewildered expression.
Hogan moved to rise, but Carter stopped him with a startlingly firm hand on his shoulder.
"No, sir. You can't move, sir." He spoke slowly, emphasizing each word, as he pointed to the still very live bomb attached to Hogan's arm. Then he tilted his head toward the tunnel entrance. "I'll go."
Without waiting for confirmation, he bent down to slip through the opening—only to jump backward like a startled cat as LeBeau shot out of the tunnel. "Bon soir!"
"LeBeau, what is going on out there?" Hogan almost stood up, with an unconscious urge to impose on the small Frenchman with his height, but he caught himself and held still.
LeBeau cleared his throat. "Well, mon Colonel… you see… we needed to distract Major Hochstetter."
A sense of foreboding prickled through Hogan's nerves. "What did you do? Blow up his car?"
"Funny you should mention that!"
As Hogan's jaw dropped, the unholy mother-hen instinct Carter fostered toward his explosives was stirred. "What? With one of my bombs?"
Hogan covered his eyes with his free hand, contemplating the image of vengeful Gestapo agents swarming over the camp. "Oh, no…"
"But Hochstetter wasn't in the car!" LeBeau protested, then spread his hands helplessly and gave Hogan a beseeching look. "He was coming for you. We had to give him something else to worry about."
It had been a foregone conclusion that the men wouldn't follow his orders this time. Holding his breath, Hogan slowly counted to five, then spoke. "Supposing they don't trace this fiasco back to us, just how do you think we're going to explain it? Because if we don't, Hochstetter's never going to leave!"
The Frenchman shrugged. "You always think of something, mon Colonel."
"Yeah, yeah…" Torn between anger and gratitude, Hogan sighed. "Did it work?"
"Oui! Hochstetter has gone straight to Klink's office to begin an investigation, and he's forgotten all about you, sir."
"Out of the frying pan, into the…" Hogan shook his head. "Alright, so we've delayed one problem by creating another—it's what we do best, anyway. While Carter finishes up here, I'll try to dream up a way out of both of them."
"I have the utmost confidence in you, mon Colonel." LeBeau turned and started for the tunnel entrance.
And in the convoluted recesses of Hogan's mind, an idea began to stir.
"Wait a minute…" He sat up straighter. "What's up with Hochstetter's radio detection goons?"
LeBeau grinned. "He has them looking for pieces of his car as we speak."
"That's a break. Alright, tell Kinch to get London on the radio, and have them leak word to that Kraut mole sniffing around at headquarters. The line is that a Lieutenant Stiegler of the Gestapo was selling information to our side. Got that?"
"Good. Get going. I'll talk to you soon… I hope."
"Right away, mon Colonel." LeBeau saluted and ducked into the tunnel, and Hogan turned to Carter. "Okay, let's get this over with."
"Oh… yes sir." Growing solemn as he remembered his task, Carter sat down and refocused his attention on the explosive. "See, I already crossed these two wires. Now I can cut this last one and take out the detonator… if I crossed the right ones."
The last few words were a mumble, but Hogan discerned them clearly enough. "And if they're not?"
Hogan closed his eyes, breathing deeply. His safety's on the line too, he reminded himself.
"Alright, Carter… give it your best shot."
"Yes sir," Carter replied quietly, and Hogan felt the dull pressure of the younger man's hand on the cast. Teeth clenched, he couldn't resist opening one eye to watch as the wire cutters closed in on the last wire.
After a long moment, Carter squeezed the grip of the cutters. The wire gave way with a muted snap…
And nothing happened.
Hogan lifted his head, his braced muscles beginning to relax, and gave Carter a glance. The younger man's eyes were closed, and his face was screwed into an expression of tension incarnate.
A giddy chuckle of amusement and relief rose in Hogan's throat, but he swallowed it back. "Carter…"
"Huh?" Carter opened his eyes, meeting Hogan's patient gaze. A look of chagrin crossed his face, but he glossed over it as he slowly plucked the detonator from inside the casing. Holding it by the wires between thumb and forefinger like a dead rat, he stared at it in amazement. "We did it!"
"You did it." Smiling warmly at Carter, Hogan removed the canvas package from the casing and unfolded it, to reveal the ten strips of microfilm that Frolich had promised.
Carter moved in again to pry the casing, complete with defused explosive charge, out of the plaster. "I want to put this thing back together. It might come in handy!"
"Unfortunately, Hochstetter's fresh out of staff cars." Hogan fidgeted and ran his fingers over the emaciated remains of the cast. "Where's that knitting needle…"
"I better go get Sergeant Wilson." Grinning, Carter shoveled the components of the bomb into his jacket. "It's time for you to get plastered. I mean—for your cast to get plastered. Replastered. I mean—"
"I know, I know." This time, Hogan was unable to restrain a chuckle. He held out the microfilm packet. "Give this to Kinch for safe keeping. And tell Newkirk and LeBeau to get Stroheim out of here, while Hochstetter's gang is busy."
"Yes sir!" Carter accepted the packet, and turned to duck into the tunnel.
The young man paused, looking up uncertainly. "Sir?"
"You did a good job."
A grateful smile spread across Carter's face. "Thank you, sir," he replied, and disappeared into the tunnel.
Klink got no sleep for the rest of the night. Hochstetter kept him awake with hot-tempered demands, recruiting camp guards to sift through the wreckage of his car, ordering more searches of the barracks. It only worsened his disposition when not a scrap of incriminating material was found—among either the prisoners or the guards.
Day was breaking when Hochstetter's attention went back to the man in the cooler.
When Klink led Hochstetter to Hogan's cell, the American officer was sprawled on the bunk, obviously in a deep slumber that Klink envied. He started awake when Hochstetter slapped the cell door, rattling the bars.
"Oh, it's you." Hogan grunted and began to roll over. "I didn't order room service…"
"Up!" Hochstetter thundered.
With an almost chiding look, Hogan slowly obeyed. Throwing off the threadbare blanket, he shambled over to the bars, his cast-laden arm tucked against his side. Somehow, it didn't look quite the same…
It both relieved and annoyed the Kommandant to see that Hogan was smirking darkly, his usual catty mood restored. "Colonel, as long as you're here, I'd like to lodge a protest against that ruckus of yours last night. How do you expect anybody to sleep through all that noise?"
"I don't," Klink grumbled miserably.
Hochstetter cut short the familiar badinage. "Do you mean to say, Colonel Hogan, that you are unaware of what has gone on here this night?"
"Am I supposed to be aware of something?"
"Bah." Hochstetter leaned closer, gripping the bars with gloved hands. "I do not believe you, Hogan. Even locked in a guarded cell, you have an uncanny ability to cause trouble! And even if you did not cause it, I think you know which of your men did."
"What's the matter, one of the boys make fun of the Gestapo during roll call again? They get rowdy when I'm not around, you know. Like they say, when the cat's away—"
"Silence!" Hochstetter roared, waving his fists in frustration.
At the sound of footsteps, he turned to see the approach of his aide. The lieutenant's expression was uneasy as he handed Hochstetter a piece of paper.
The Major snatched the dispatch and unfolded it. As he read it, his face grew increasingly red.
"What is it, Major?" Klink queried. He couldn't keep from his voice the very faintest undercurrent of glee, realizing that whatever the news was, it was making Hochstetter an unhappy man indeed.
Hochstetter crumpled the paper. "A German spy in London has discovered that Major Frolich's aide, Lieutenant Stiegler, was the double agent. Not Frolich himself. In fact, they think Stiegler killed Frolich for finding out." He threw the ball of paper to the floor. "Stiegler was an expert with explosives. They believe he put the bomb in my car as well, before he was killed. And they have called me back to Berlin, to answer for how this man eluded us so long."
"Well, how do you like that! You go blaming us, and all this time it was one of yours!" Hogan snorted, badly feigning wounded dignity.
The Gestapo officer spun on his heel to glare at him. "Hogan, I still think you had something to do with this—and I will learn how if it is the last thing I do!"
Hogan's eyes twinkled. "Sticks and stones, Major…"
Klink, who had no compunctions about kicking Hochstetter when he was down, chose that calculated moment to intervene. "I think you've done enough already! Turning this camp upside down when you should have been investigating your own agents…"
Hochstetter whirled, and if looks could kill, Klink would have been a smudge on the floor. As it was, the Kommandant blithely ignored it. "Shall I see you to your car?"
The small man's rage erupted in one final, thunderous "BAH!"—and with that, he marched out of the cooler, his woeful aide on his heels.
Klink allowed himself a brief, devious smile, glancing at Hogan. "For once, that man is getting what he deserves for needlessly disrupting this camp! Imagine, thinking prisoners could have blown up his car…"
He paused, suddenly doubtful, and his expression turned suspicious.
Hogan merely nodded sagely. "Yes sir, it's a completely ludicrous idea. After all… we have so much more creative places for hiding bombs."
Oblivious to Klink's stare of bewildered astonishment, Hogan sauntered back to the bunk, and settled in to catch up on hours of lost sleep.
Copyright 2000 Jordanna Morgan